Sunday, December 19, 2010

Jax Marathon

The last couple of weeks were riddled with uncertainties as P's knee started acting up and she went through a couple of sports massages before she could get to the start line this morning. And, I managed to pick up a cold/sore throat in the last four days (after remaining sick free for a year - since last Christmas).

Finally, after much deliberation, both of us showed up at the start line this morning. The weather was cooler than usual and it was drizzling through out. However, it was not wet enough to soak our shoes. Having prepared for close to 6 months and despite all the odds in the last couple of weeks, both of us knew we wanted to do the full marathon. However, cutting it short to a half marathon was definitely on the table for both of us - since we didn't want do anything crazy/stupid that would harm us in the long run (no pun intended).

Just an hour into the race, it was a bit demoralizing to see Bib #1- an elite runner (the guy technically likely to win) cut short his marathon into a half. It was windier and cooler than expected. However, we kept running, thanks to the spirit of the volunteers who were there braving the cold weather and helping all of us run. It was definitely motivating to see that people of all ages- elderly people, little kids and all others in between would cheer for strangers.

In addition to the volunteers who sign up to be at designated water/potty break spots ( roughly about 2 miles apart on an average), there were people in the neighborhood who came out. There was an elderly man handing out water bottles in front of his home (This was in between the designated water stops and came in much handy). Another guy was handing out cut oranges in front of his home. The route was scenic and the small community feel started reminding us of the Tour De France where cyclists go through neighborhood areas.

There was another guy who pulled his truck right by my side and checked up on me. He asked if I wanted another orange (No wonder it is Orange County) and gave me one. 

Even the cops were very attentive and made sure they were following us when there was traffic behind. This time, it reminded the set up that elite runners have though we were much behind. 

The mistake of not taking the gel an hour into the race (as I should have done) caught up with me. I was cursing myself for straying off the plan,  delaying the first feed by about 20 minutes and gulping Gatorade instead. I was thinking to myself about the rules discussion AS and HA that  P and I had at Sweet Tomatoes and how I flouted rule #1.

I had to recover. Then I thought about RK's recovery attempt  from his experience. I slowed down and walked the next mile to reset my internal counter. Soon, in a few minutes, P and I were caught up and began running together for a few miles. For the next few miles, she was leading.

Around mile 17, reality slowly started sinking in. The famous "wall" (point of not being able to push yourself further) was theoretically ahead of us. Both of us had done up to 20 and 22 miles as part of our training regimen and hence we were soon going to be into new  territories - yet to be discovered. Generally, the spirit of the marathon would push you in the final miles. However, this one being small (about 2500 runners and most of them do half) left us in solo territory for longer durations after the half point. There was no music at the mile stops right from the beginning. However, the crowd started waning away after the half. At times, you wouldn't see any one ahead of you and any one behind you - for what seems like miles, but definitely for a few minutes.

Occasionally, it did cross my mind if I would start hallucinating and wander off the path. A lot of fear about the "Wall" was instilled in us and especially since we didn't hit one during training, I had no vague notion of what it would be like. I thought to myself - Did I miss a sign while looking down and running the last few minutes? Am I still on the right path ? This is where the small size marathon started to bother me. I started comparing this to the Detroit half, where it was crowded all around - start to finish. Again, that was a half though !

Even though we were pretty close to our training speed and actually on schedule, seeing no one around makes one wonder if we were the dead last. Luckily, at the next water stop at around mile 19 , we checked and were told that there were people definitely behind. The next water stop at mile 21 was not that lucky. There was no water and no one at the stop. A few feet away, there was a bottle of water unopened and I grabbed it just to be safe. We had contemplated whether we should bring our own hydration packs , but every ounce of weight is an ounce that we rather not have in such long runs. Again, that is the advantage of these organized runs where things are generally organized well. And it was not as if we were concerned about losing time at the water breaks. We were definitely not in for time, this being our first one. The goal was to finish injury free.

Finally just after mile 21 or so, we were put on the main road. It was a welcome relief for me to see the cars and traffic.  It was ironic that I would be motivated out of urban living. But, I guess I needed some movement and action to motivate me through the final 5 miles. At this point, the legs started hurting and I was cursing my bare foot ideologies. At one point, it dawned on me that the gloves that I wore to protect my hands from the cold weather were more padded (cushioned and thicker) than the sole of these barefoot shoes that were protecting the feet which did all the running. But again, I reminded myself, I had switched in the past to regular shoes amidst my training and that hadn't helped me. 
And since then, I have even started considering myself a minimalist runner. At least, I have to think that now to keep the next few miles going. 

Another 5 miles is close to an hour. But, I didn't want to think in units of time. Quickly drifted away from that thought. I focused instead on the guy ahead of me. Unfortunately, he was struggling too. His wife (who was not running) kept following him in car and encouraged him at various points. I had just seen them a mile ago. Now, she is driving past him and honking and would soon stop at the next mile walking a few feet with him. I focused my thoughts on the positive aspects of life. Even in a seemingly solo sport like running, we are so dependent on other people around us, family, friends, and strangers - for emotional and logistical support. I was thinking of all the volunteers who helped put together the race and manned the water stops. Without them, we couldn't do it alone.

Anyway, at this point - walking was more painful for me. Running was not. For P, it was the other way. She didn't want to damage her already affected knee and she was going to lose only a minute or so per mile walking compared to running. So, she nudged - why don't you try running the remaining 5 miles, there by possibly attempting a sub-6 hour finish? She would soon be there in less than 10 minutes behind. I  felt comfortable too since we were out of the wooded area and it was safe enough in the main roads.

This was also the stretch that had a little bit of uphill. That felt good from the monotonous flat roads (Jax is famous for and thus advertised as a fast course; It is also certified and a Boston qualifier) for a change. Now I know when they say - "Keep those legs moving". Any stop would mean the legs would lock up and it was tough to warm up again. So, no more restroom breaks beyond this point either. I soon started passing people one at a time. I reminded to myself that I have generally performed the second half (in previous races) faster than the first half. It felt good to just keep running.

Mile 23 - Another 3 miles+  - A loop around the Morton road back home. I said to myself: Been there done that. Should be easy.
Mile 24 - It seems like it was going to happen. I had never hit that number before. Another 2.2 miles - that is about three loops inside our subdivision. No problem.
Mile 25 - About a loop and half inside the sub division - Absolutely Doable

Mile 26 was no where to be found. This stretch seemed the longest of all since the route takes you off main road again into the residential neighborhood only to put you back on the street. 

Every time, I was looking for the route signs of Marathon, I would see "Homes for sale", "Garage sale, Next left". That was not what I was looking for  5 hours and 48 minutes into the run since I started. In order to target a sub-6 finish, 12 minute mile was absolutely doable since I had been running the last few miles at a faster pace than after the half point.

Finally, with 3 minutes to spare, I enter the running track inside the school (This is the finish lap). About 0.25 miles in less than 3 minutes is still doable. However, I look at the official clock (which starts NOT as soon as I personally start - but right about when the first person in the race starts soon after the shot) and it has 8 seconds before 6:00. There was no way to pull that off. I started about 2 to 3  minutes after the official gun shot. Finally, when I go through the final sensor - the time is 6:01:31. That is a few seconds  short of 6 hours per my personal start !!

A quick emotional moment later, I grab myself and then the medal and the banana. I soon see G and P's cousin. I tell them P is not far behind. She was there in another 10 minutes and soon picks her medal as well. G gets to see P taking the victory lap inside the school where this ends. She starts running in the track field saying amma amma. We take a few pictures and head back home.

Finally, as we think we have an item crossed off on the bucket list, we come home and leisurely savor the magazine (Running and Triathlon) that we picked up at the Marathon Expo before the race. In it, an ad for Pearl Izumi shoes reads...

Marathon is a race to be run -not a box to be checked on bucket list !!
So true. It is a humbling experience for sure and just the beginning !!


  1. Awesome post...BTW, its $11 to apply for NYC today and $160 if u get in, SWAG is awesome & there is a lot of support and a million folks cheering you on.

  2. Very well put. One can feel the exuberance mixed with humility, let alone the well needed dependence on the onlookers.

  3. Beautifully written. About your achievement itself: hats off.

  4. interesting read, i see so many diff perspectives you trained your mind to shift the you kept track of your thoughts rather than thoughts on the track..
    most importantly though, you proved that the marathon is on..for each one of identified and chose yours..I on the other hand am preferring to see its trails in the rear view mirror
    you two are our heroes..lets party after you get back

  5. I think this is so totally a mind game (Marathon). Personally speaking I think I can NEVER run a marathon...and it always starts with try to prove yourself wrong...and go for it. So the race/fight is with the self (not the world).
    AWESOME job...WTG...proud of you and P.